The landscape of English football is definitely changing. Leicester’s bid for the Premier League title might be the story of this season but the shift goes further than them.
Look at the make-up of the division: Bournemouth, Watford, Swansea, Palace, Norwich. This is an era when more and more clubs are climbing high above their traditional level.
Look as well at the clubs who could be dropping out of the division next month. Norwich might yet go but if they don’t we’ll have Aston Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland in the Championship. Those three on top of Leeds, Forest, Wolves and possibly the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Derby. It’s about as high-profile as the league could get.
Relegation can affect big clubs in different ways. Bolton, for example, never dealt with the drop and are about to fall into League One. Newcastle on the other hand blew the Championship away the last time they came down to this level. They won the title at a canter. So it’s not the case that they, Sunderland or Villa would automatically bounce back easily but if I was running Leeds United I’d be very conscious of the division’s potential strength.
Leeds are safe from relegation and to be honest, they should always have been safe from relegation. It’s frustrating to reflect on how little the club have done this season and I know how annoying that must be for the fans but in reality the squad at Elland Road are much better than the bottom three. Certain players are much better than the bottom three. Things have been typically fraught in stages but I don’t think there was ever a time when the club looked like they were heading for League One.
Even so, I very much hope that Leeds and their owner don’t think that when things don’t work out, the worst that will happen is a mid-table finish and a bit of grumbling. The standard of football in the Championship might not be on a par with the Premier League – it’s some way below in truth – but as a competition it’s fantastic. People are making a big deal of the way in which the Premier League has become an open shop this year but it has to be said that the Championship is always like that. Basically, it’s an extremely hard league to get out of – unless you’re going down.
As ever, I’d be wary of assuming too much of a Premier League side relegated to the second tier. To take Villa in isolation, they’re clearly a mess. They’ve got no manager as it stands and they’ll need to clear out their squad. I’d imagine that Newcastle would be able to get their act together more easily and they’ll have the advantage of massive crowds behind them. Finances dictate everything but the saving grace for any club in that position is the parachute payments that come from the Premier League. Even so, promotion is never a gimme. To my mind, Bolton will act as a warning to the likes of Villa or Newcastle.
Stick around in this division for any length of time and sometimes your decline is too long-winded to recover from. On that basis, I expect all three of the sides who come down to grit their teeth and have a real go at the first time of asking. And that’s one of several reasons why Leeds need to get their own house in order and get it in order quickly when the summer comes. Otherwise they risk being left behind again.
First up, they have to decide what is happening with their head coach – although I’d be quite surprised if that decision hasn’t already been made. I feel sorry for Steve Evans because he’s hardly been in the door two minutes but to listen to what Massimo Cellino has been saying about him and to look at Cellino’s track record, I think we all know where this is going.
To be completely honest, at this stage I’m expecting Steve to go and a replacement to come in when the season finishes. I make the point over and over again that stability and support is needed in that role but Cellino just doesn’t seem to see football in that way. He hasn’t really stood by head coaches at Leeds and he didn’t really stand by them at Cagliari either. It always seems to be the first port of call for change and it looks like Steve will be next to find that out. Quite who the next man will be I can’t even guess but part of you wonders if it even matters. If Leeds are incapable of keeping a head coach for more than a couple of months then what difference can any of them make?
You might argue that a coach who puts Leeds right in the hunt for promotion would earn himself time in the job but my response to that would be to ask whether the circumstances at Elland Road allow for a coach or his players to be in the hunt for promotion in the first place?
It’s blatantly obvious that Leeds need better players and a stronger squad.
It’s probably true as well that some of the team’s inconsistency this season has come from the youthful make up of their team.
Young players are always a bit inconsistent. But I’m convinced too that part of that inconsistency is down to the fact that nothing at Leeds stays the same.
Nothing seems to last and change, uncertainty, is always in the air. We’re almost at the stage where another change of head coach this summer is exactly what we’re used to.
It’s Leeds. How else would it be?
Whatever the failing of the players – and it goes without saying that they haven’t been brilliant – it cannot help to have so little continuity. One day you’re playing for Uwe Rosler, the next for Steve Evans. Before long, the job’s passed to someone else. I know other clubs churn through managers but it feels like Leeds never allow their equilibrium to settle. If Cellino can’t change tack then you almost fear that next season will be lost before it starts. I really hope everyone at Elland Road can see that – and Cellino most of all.